If you want your company to be innovative, failure is not an option…it is essential. Innovation is built on the willingness to try new things and the understanding that failure will be an inevitable road-hump along the way. It is that simple and it is that difficult.

Innovation is a buzzword that is much bandied about and we are constantly told that if we fail to innovate we will fail period. The problem is that most of our organizations have been built to ward off failure at all costs, built around the recognition and rewarding of success. This mindset and practice permeates both the formal and informal structures and it is both tacit and implied. More often than not it forms part of our very DNA. We greatly admire the companies who innovate and are successful as they do so, immediately wanting to replicate their success without a willingness to take the risk that underpins the result.

I have often been asked to assist in the process towards helping a company or team realize a greater ability to be innovative. However, the unspoken accompanying brief is to not mess with the structure, culture, decision rights, information flow, management style and motivators. ‘We want to innovate but please don’t change us in the process’ is the inherent oxymoron that usually remains in the blind spot and goes undetected by those desiring the end result.

The reality is that failure in the pursuit of innovation is unavoidable and if you wish to succeed at innovating your future then you will need to be willing to fail.

In order to be innovative and be able to cope with failure here would be some pointers for your consideration:

Innovation will necessitate openness to information. How does this work in your company? In order to be more ‘open’ you might need to examine your leadership and management mindset and practice. It might well be that some sort of deconstruction here is necessary before you can begin to truly build an environment where information flows in order to sustain innovation.

Innovation will require finding, asking and answering the right questions. The mind works best in the presence of a question and so savvy leaders understand that their role is not about having the answers but rather about posing the right questions. Doing so will require a well thought through process to support and sustain the questions and ultimately lead to the answers. Asking the questions without such a process can often result in unhealthy chaos and disequilibrium. I know of one such instance where a leader was good at challenging the status quo and posing tough questions but, the informality and lack of a considered process, meant that the initial good was quickly undone and the organizational culture and relationships were damaged almost beyond repair. It is not enough to simply come up with the questions. You will have to think through the who, how, what and when in finding a suitable process that will then mature the question into a innovative answer.

Be willing to fail but repeated failure is just stupid. As said, failure is part of every innovative process. However, it is necessary to learn from specific failure in order to not repeat it. The lack of review and feedback loops (sharing information) often mean that failure gets replicated and nothing seems to be learnt. It sounds so basic and it is; yet this is one of the most ignored and neglected aspects within many companies. The problem usually sits with a leadership mindset that is unwilling to first entertain authentic feedback at their doorstep. Without it starting here, there can be no real discussion and review elsewhere. When failure occurs the invitation is to learn lessons that can then help ensure that it is not repeated. Often egos, a brittle organizational culture and the pace of things all militate against this happening. The ability to host robust conversations underpinned by a clear understanding and ownership of what it is that we are trying to achieve will be required. This will in turn mean that healthy relationships are essential.

Innovation is a mindset, a process and not an event. All too often innovation is seen as something ‘to do’ rather than something ‘to be’. Fostering a culture of innovation will require rethinking other aspects of your organizational culture, practices and habits. It is not something you ‘do once’ and then things can get back ‘to normal’. When seen as this there can be no lasting or sustainable innovation.

The lessons are out there, the examples and role models can be found but ultimately innovation is something that has to be seen in context. It is not something that can simply be imitated or duplicated. So a good starting point might be to look at some current failure and invite some considered discussion around the ‘why?’

TomorrowToday Global